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I don't believe there is one right way to go about this: it's something determined by style. There are definitely, however, wrong ways of doing it. We all know those introductory passages where so much is said about the character's beauty/intelligence/ah-MAZing skills that it turns your stomach. Should we all have ugly, stupid characters, then, so as not to irritate readers? By no means: oftentimes the fault comes not in the merits of the character, but from the delivery. I can get just as frustrated with over-described dolts as with over-described geniuses.
One of the main problems, I believe, with the attempt to describe a character (especially a main character) is that we have this idea that if we devote enough words to his features, we can translate our own mental image into the reader's mind. But at least for myself, I don't find that to be the case. The mental image I have of, say, Tip Brighton is probably not the exact image that a reader would piece together; and I doubt that an image I have of another author's character is quite what they had in mind. The most important means of communicating who a character is have little to do physical descriptors; they're far more visceral - actions and quirks, not bone structure and eye color.
All that to say, we needn't depend on descriptions to summarize a character. That isn't to say we should rid ourselves of all descriptions, however, only that less can be more where adjectives are concerned. The amount of description for any character should be determined by the circumstances of his or her introduction, and by the style of narration. I mentioned in the comments on my previous post that I tend not to describe my main characters much beyond hair or eye color. This is because my main characters are my narrators, and even in third-person, it's awkward to have the character appear be describing himself. (Apparently mirror-scenes are cliche to the nth degree, so I can't recommend them.)
It is possible to get around this in means other than the mirror-scene, though, especially if a novel has two point-of-view characters; I do this a little in The White Sail's Shaking, since I switch between Tip and Marta. When Marta first meets Tip, there are certain things she fixes on at once: his hair, which is always sticking up, and his laugh, which sounds like a cork coming out a bottle. When Tip gets to know Marta, he's much more attuned to her looks than she is to his. (And he has this idea that she's pretty, which is silly, but what can you do?) If you do have more than one narrating character and they interact, I think it nice to show their first impressions of each other and what features stand out in their eyes.
Another good thing to do - and I mentioned this briefly in a post I did almost a year ago - is to allow other characters to comment on your narrator in subjective terms. Charlie Bent is always quick to point out how plain Tip is. (What else are friends for?) A seaman who rumbles briefly through The White Sail's Shaking very kindly remarks that Marta's features look like a boy's. I like these dashes of outsiders' thoughts, so long as they are in general and not specific; unless the speaker is lovesick, I doubt they would go into detail about the narrator having blue eyes and perfect teeth.
There's more freedom in describing secondary characters, I find, as long as the setting is appropriate. Note - if the main character meets a person while they're both running away from the Gestapo, that's not an appropriate setting. But in normal circumstances, some description from the narrator's eyes is good. Try to incorporate the main character's feelings, rather than conveying mere lifeless adjectives - it makes it much more enjoyable to read, but also to write. I just picked up The Lantern Bearers last night, and the first chapter is a good example of this. The main character, Aquila, has just come home for a visit after a year away and is seeing his sister, who has grown up in that time; the descriptions are tinged with nostalgia and affection.
Emotions are the best means of adding color to the characters on the page, for they introduce the element of subjectivity that gives reality to the mind of the narrator. No matter how you go about bringing them into play, they must be present. Without them, people are not people at all and the only images the writer communicates will be of colored carboard-cutouts.